Urban Fold

A Giant Leap Forward for Low-Income Housing in Philadelphia

Inga Saffron reviews a trio of environmentally friendly rowhouses built for low-income families in Philadelphia's Logan neighborhood, which she proclaims are "superior to anything Philadelphia has done in half a century."

According to Saffron the rowhouses break new ground on several levels: for their stylish and modern designs "both inside and out," their pioneering achievement as the first in the state to be certified by International Passive House Institute, and their remarkably efficient cost of construction. Produced by Onion Flats, "the quirky firm that designs, builds, develops, and sometimes markets its own residential projects," the homes are "among the most energy-efficient ever built in the United States," a boon to families with annual incomes of less than $25,000 who can ill-afford high energy bills.   

"Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the five-bedroom houses," says Saffron, "is that they cost the same to build as a conventional brick box, about $250,000 apiece, or $129 a square foot. Even so, it's a good bet that few houses at this cost level - affordable or market-rate - come with high-end Bosch appliances and fine European windows."

Developed using modular construction techniques, and assembled on-site, "Architect Tim McDonald sees the project as proof that low-income housing can be just as good as the market-rate version. 'These are zero energy with zero premium, so there should be zero debate. Why would you build it any other way?'"

Full Story: Changing Skyline: High-quality homes for low-income Philadelphians


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